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How Can Gun Violence Be Prevented? 5 Findings from APA’s New Report

Police tape at crime scene

By Efua Andoh (APA Public Interest Directorate Communications Staff)

The horrific shootings around the country (e.g., Newtown, CT; Fort Hood, TX; Aurora, CO; and the Navy Yard in Washington, DC) have prompted a renewed national debate on how best to prevent gun violence. Recognizing the critical role for the field of psychology in this discussion, APA commissioned a task force report that synthesizes the available science on the complex underpinnings of gun violence, from gender and culture to gun policies and prevention strategies.

Out this morning, the comprehensive report, Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention, and Policy, states that there is no single personality profile that can reliably predict who will use a gun in a violent act – but individual prediction is not necessary for violence prevention. The report identifies precursors and promising solutions to the problem of gun violence in our society.

Here are five major findings of the report:

1.       Multiple factors influence an individual’s propensity for violence.

When a person does resort to violence, that behavior is typically associated with a confluence of “individual, family, school, peer, community and sociocultural factors that interact over time.” Appropriate access to mental health treatment can reduce gun violence, but a singular focus on mental health will not solve the problem the report says. Furthermore, the availability of such mental health care remains “woefully insufficient,” it adds.

2.       Behavioral threat assessment is the most effective approach for gun violence prevention.

Behavioral threat assessment teams are composed of trained experts who identify and intervene with a smaller group of individuals who have communicated threats of violence or engaged in behavior that indicates preparation to commit a violent act.

3.       Both primary and secondary prevention programs are needed.

Primary prevention programs can reduce risk factors for violence in the general population. Secondary prevention programs can help individuals who are experiencing emotional difficulties or interpersonal conflicts before they escalate into violence.

4.       Fostering healthy family and community environments for troubled individuals is key.

A propensity for violence can begin early in life, which is why promoting healthy development in family and community environments and a continuum of care for troubled individuals is important. Research has shown that early intervention with at-risk families can improve parenting skills and disrupt the pathway from early-onset aggression to violence. To reduce gun violence at the community level there must be a comprehensive, coordinated approach taking advantage of the training and skills of law enforcement, educators and mental health providers.

5.       Firearms prohibitions for high-risk individuals have been shown to reduce violence.

Keeping prohibited persons from accessing firearms, such as licensing handgun purchases, background checks for all gun sales and close oversight of gun retailers, can reduce the diversion of guns to criminals, according to the report. The prevention of gun violence might include efforts focused on guns – because guns are such a powerful tool for violence – but should also include other strategies such as conflict resolution programs and improved mental health services.

You can read the rest of the press release and full report here.

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